Last year I wrote a post about anxiety and how it affects me: When Anxiety Attacks. I wrote it because I know that I am not the first nor will I be the last person to suffer from anxiety. I am also a huge believer in problems shared are problems halved and talking away taboos is half the battle. So here I am, talking about it again.
I sought help for my anxiety and it lead me to examine why I am built this way. There are personality traits that lead me down the path to panic land. I am analytical. I can see potential issues that others don’t pick up. I have a tendency towards perfectionism. I want to please people. I have a vivid imagination. I have high standards, for myself and others. These aren’t bad traits to have. In fact, they have served me well in my career. But the combination means that I tend towards disproportionate worrying. It means I need to be aware of the early warning signs and keep them under control. This healthy self-awareness is no different from the person who knows they burn easily and lathers themselves in sunscreen and a broad brim hat. I just protect myself in different ways.
When my head and heart start to race towards that unhealthy place, I take a moment. Rather than searching for a reason for my burgeoning anxiety I tell myself this: “This happens to you sometimes. It’s not uncommon. You don’t have to find a reason for it. You don’t need to justify it. Breathe. Be mindful. Be kind to yourself. Acknowledge and let go.” In the past, I have frantically searched for a reason for the tightness in my chest. When I couldn’t find one, I’d conjure one up. I’d heap an imaginary problem into my head to provide myself with an excuse for feeling the way I did. I know more about anxiety now. I know it’s not necessarily logical, although it will wear that mask. When I stop trying to justify the anxiety, I take away its oxygen. I reduce its legitimacy and it shrinks back to normal size.
While I have managed to beat anxiety when it creeps in for no particular reason, I still have issues with ambiguity. Where there are gaps and spaces, I fill them with the worst possible scenario. Someone has’t emailed me back? They must not like me. In reality, they have just been busy. Someone hasn’t said hello to me at school pick-up? I must have done something to anger them. In reality, they are dealing with a family crisis and not as social as they normally would be. I am much less integral to the way other people act than my anxiety would have me believe.
This is something I need to watch. I can easily take unrelated threads and fabricate them into wild story. And then believe the story I have weaved. A vivid imagination, the need for closure and the tendency towards self-doubt can take me to some needlessly dark places. It’s then that I reach out for a reality check. Sometimes the perspective of another person is all I need to climb out of the hole I have dug for myself. Sometimes reading someone else’s experience gives me the light-bulb moment I need to reduce the blackness.
So this is me, letting whoever is reading and nodding along know that you aren’t alone. Not by half. What you are feeling isn’t silly or wrong, it’s your mind wandering into dark places. The trick is figuring out how to find the light or how to reach out to the hand of a person willing to guide you out.